December 2, 2011
Record-Breaking Arctic Warming Leaves Winners And Losers
A new report from a group of multination scientists says that the planet´s Arctic is moving into a warmer phase compared with previous years. And as with most all major environmental changes, there are both winners and losers as temperatures rise.
Researchers from 14 nations published the now famous Arctic Report Card on Thursday in which they stated that average air temperatures in the region were significantly elevated in 2011 compared with previous thirty years--on average some 2.5 degrees F (1.5 C) warmer to be precise.
One of the most significant effects of this shift has been a rapid decrease in the volume of sea and glacial ice in the earth´s northern polar region as these massive stores of frozen water melt off into the ocean. The change has meant a number of dramatic changes for the region´s aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
Researchers say that polar bear and walrus populations in particular have suffered, as the size of their hunting grounds have significantly diminished as sheets of surface ice continue to melt. The region´s whale community, by contrast, is profiting from greatly enlarged feeding areas.
Medina expressed the belief that humans also stood to benefit from the shift, as a more hospitable polar region presents an opportunity to capitalize on previously inaccessible resources.
“With a greener and warmer Arctic, more development is likely. Reports like this one help us prepare for increasing demands on Arctic resources so that better decisions can be made about how to manage and protect these more valuable and increasingly available resources,” she said.
Oil, natural gas and tourist industries are expected to see the most substantial booms, Medina noted.
This new trend towards warmer temperatures is not expected to change anytime soon, say researchers. As highly reflective surface ice melts, more and more of the sun´s rays are able to reach and warm open ocean waters, thus causing more ice to melt in a sort of positive feedback mechanism.
“We´ve got a new norm,” explained Don Perovich of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers´ Cold Research and Engineering division. “Whether it´s a tipping point and it will never recover, who can say? But we have a new normal “¦ that has implications not just for the ice but for other components of the Arctic system.”
What´s more, these changes to the Arctic system may in turn affect the whole planet, says one of the report´s co-authors Jackie Richte-Menge. It doesn´t mean that the Arctic is doomed and the whole world with it, she said. But the Arctic region is like the world´s air-conditioner, and someone has cranked up the thermostat way too high.
The report specifically highlighted the following statistical trends to illustrate a few of the effects of rising temperatures:
- The 5 lowest levels of summer ice on record were measured in the 5 years between 2006 and 2011.
- According to estimates from NASA satellites, roughly 430 billion metric tons of ice have melted in Greenland since 2010.
- Almost half of the region´s known 19 sub-populations of polar bears have been shrinking in recent years.
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